Life's WORC founder honored for work in wake of Willowbrook scandal

ByEyewitness News via WABC logo
Saturday, April 2, 2022
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Nassau County proclaimed Friday "Vicki Schneps Day" in honor of the woman who founded Life's WORC in the wake of the Willowbrook scandal.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- This year marks the 50th anniversary of the one most important stories Eyewitness News has ever covered -- an investigative revelation that children and adults with severe disabilities were being warehoused in an inhumane and deadly facility on Staten Island.

Reporter Geraldo Rivera broke the story of the despicable conditions at Willowbrook, and it changed the way this country treats people with disabilities.

On Long Island Friday night, Rivera was honored by the group Life's WORC, which opened after WABC's series on Willowbrook. And Friday afternoon, the founder was honored in Nassau County.

Back in 1972, Rivera was led into the facility secretly by a doctor who would show him the horrific conditions in which the developmentally disabled children were living.

RELATED | Revisiting Willowbrook 50 years later with reporter Geraldo Rivera

It was a story that not only launched Rivera's career, but it changed the formula for how we we treat those living with disabilities.

The new network of group homes that would emerge was called Life's WORC, founded by Vicki Schneps.

"We transitioned to a more compassionate, supportive environment, placing individuals in homes within communities in family-like settings," CEO Matt Gwzebatto said.

It stemmed from the actions of one determined Willowbrook parent, Schneps, whose daughter Lara was at the institution as an infant.

Her family started a federal class-action lawsuit.

"And that lawsuit is what ultimately emptied Willowbrook," Schneps said. "5,400 people who live in group homes with dignity."

And she hasn't stopped since.

"If you've got a child with special needs, you've got to fight," she said. "It's a war."

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Today, the non-profit has group homes in Suffolk, Nassau and Queens counties, as well as in Manhattan, serving 2,000 individuals.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman proclaimed Friday "Vicki Schneps Day," in honor of the hero mother for her decades of advocacy -- and the thousands of lives that are better because of it.

Life's WORC will celebrate 50 years of hard work Friday night at a gala at the Garden City Hotel. So far, they've raised $800,000, but Schneps is hoping to reach $1 million.

You can watch the special 'Willowbrook: 50 Years Later With Geraldo Rivera,' right here and on your television set on demand, whenever you want. Just make sure you add the ABC7NY app to streaming devices such as Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android TV.

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